Meet The Johnson's
YOUR HOSTS, PAUL AND BRANDI JOHNSON, ON MAKING TRADITIONS
Fishing is a part of the culture in Minnesota. The fishing opener is like a holiday and fishing trips are eagerly anticipated, thoroughly enjoyed, then vividly reminisced within the company of participating family and friends. Traditions are formed; trips “up north” to Minnesota’s wooded lake country are celebrated annually. Still sprinkled across many of Minnesota’s famous 10,000 lakes are family-owned and operated resorts that make family vacations traditions.
Minnesotans are kind. “Minnesota Nice” is the regional concept of caring for others and helping strangers like they are your own family. For Paul and Brandi Johnson, their lives have been the culmination of Minnesota nice, their own experiences helping guests enjoy “up north” Minnesota, and creating their own traditions while helping others establish their own. Paul and Brandi love Lake of the Woods, and they are always working hard to help you enjoy it too.
A lifetime in fishing and hospitality are the ties that bind Paul and Brandi Johnson, the owners, and operators of River Bend Resort. Growing up as high school sweethearts in Perham, Minnesota, the pair each had their own experiences as young people in resorts and making family memories on fishing trips.
Brandi’s grandparents met while they worked at her great-grandfather’s resort, Pike Lakes Lodge and The Colonial Motel. A photo of her grandparents at their resort now hangs in River Bend Resort, as a testimony to the power of love and the importance of tradition. Going another generation back, Brandi’s great-grandfather owned Pine Lakes Lodge on Little Pine Lake near Perham and partnered in Kehler’s Resort on Rush Lake.
Paul worked at his family’s resort located between Perham and Ottertail, Johnson’s Lakeview Resort on Rush Lake. The Johnson family owned and operated the resort for 32 years. When Paul was 18, Johnson’s Lakeview Resort was listed for sale. Paul wanted to buy the resort, but the family talked him out of it. Paul’s love of the resort life never wavered.
Paul and Brandi began their life together as high school sweethearts. Paul graduated in 1998 and Brandi in 1999. It was one year later, in 2000, the two joined in holy matrimony. By 2006 they were managing their first resort – Whispering Pines on Big Pine Lake located near their hometown of Perham, MN. Then in 2010, the two moved up to Lake of The Woods where they took over management of Rainy River Resort. And it didn’t take long, the pair knew they wanted to own their own operation. So, in March of 2012, Paul and Brandi bought River Bend Resort.
The couple lived at River Bend Resort but started looking for houses. One day while searching for a new home, Paul noticed a hotel for sale in Baudette. Well, it didn’t take long to convince Brandi to follow in her grandparent’s footsteps! Owning a resort and a hotel carries on a true family tradition.
The pair visited and decided on-site to make an offer. As luck would have it, their offer was accepted in November of 2013 and the Johnson found their place to live – a 40-bedroom hotel, the famous Walleye Inn!
Originally built in 1981, the Johnsons are second owners who have spruced up the facilities and are proud to offer additional accommodations to visiting families and anglers to the Lake of the Woods Area. As for finding that house…to this day, the Johnson still live on-site at River Bend Resort.
Paul and Brandi have spent most of their marriage as both life partners and business partners in managing and owning resorts. Both were raised on resorts and have spent their lifetimes in the service industry. They grew up with their own outdoor traditions, learning and loving the outdoors and fishing industries.
“The memories I have were of those family fishing trips where we’d pack up the truck and boat for a long weekend getaway,” Brandi recalled. “Fishing trips were something our entire family (sometimes four generations would be on the fishing trip) looked forward to.”
When Brandi’s great-grandfather sold his resorts in the Perham Area, her family started their own resort vacation traditions, visiting family-owned resorts for annual weekly summer stays at Lake of the Woods, Canada, Kabetogama Lake, and elsewhere across northern Minnesota. “Those trips were so much fun to be able to spend time together in cabins and out on the water.”
Paul’s memories as a young man were of times working on the family resort and helping create successful fishing trips and memories for guests. “The focus was on making each week a special week for someone new,” Paul said. “Growing up on the Ma and Pa side of the resort industry was a blessing.”
The family tradition is alive and well with the Johnsons at River Bend Resort. Paul and Brandi’s two sons, Ryan, and Matthew, are jumping into the family business, finding their niche in roles, and loving their service roles in helping guests have great experiences.
“Matthew is our youngest, a senior in high school, and has jumped in as one of our ice guides. his favorite part of being one of our ice guides is those 20-minute breaks to make sure there are fish underneath fish our houses. And of course, taking care of customers. He really enjoys visiting with clients.” Said Brandi.
“Ryan, our eldest son, is one of our evening cooks.” Brandi continued. “He guided for four years and made the switch to cooking. Five days a week, you are getting a taste of his offerings and he’s absolutely loving it. Ryan is a huge part of our kitchen team.”
Perhaps there is no better representation of tradition and bonding than the legend of the late Miles Johnson, Labrador retriever and beloved resort dog at Riverbend Resort. Miles passed away in 2021 after an incredible 11 and a half years. River Bend Resort’s restaurant and bar are named the “Miles Lab Bar & Grill” in his honor, a move that was done when he was still alive.
“A lot of our guests had a great bond with him,” Brandi recalls. “Seeing him was part of the tradition of visiting. Staff miss him, clients remember him, some of our visiting families had kids that grew up with him. Our staff created a memorial for him, and we had a service. Customers drove from as far away as 5 hours to attend a dog’s memorial. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.” `
RIVER BEND RESORT GIVES ITS VISITORS A TOP NOTCH EXPERIENCE
Visiting Lake of the Woods is itself an experience. Many make the journey north through northern forest and bog, arriving in Baudette, passing Willie Walleye, and rolling north to the lake and River Bend Resort. People come for remarkable fishing. For many, a slow day on Lake of the Woods exceeds their best day fishing another lake. “Everyone is coming up to Lake of the Woods because your chances of catching a trophy are better at Lake of the Woods,” Paul says. “The draw is the search for the trophy walleye, the 28 or even 30-inch walleye that you’ll always remember and talk about.”
“Everyone is coming up to Lake of the Woods because your chances of catching a trophy are better at Lake of the Woods,” Paul says. “The draw is the search for the trophy walleye, the 28 or even 30-inch walleye that you’ll always remember and talk about.”
The reputation for amazing fishing is the draw, but the fishing isn’t something anyone can control. Weather, the strength of the bite, moon phase, and so many other things are out of an angler’s control as to the quality of the angling. This is where Riverbend Resort helps make an unforgettable experience.
“The experience is important,” Paul promises. “We want people to have clean cabins, we want people to be greeted with a smile like they are family. They’re not just a number, they are our family.”
“We want to know people by name, and we do remember our returning guests. You’re going to be comfortable, you’re going to be treated well, you’re going to eat delicious food, you’re going to have great drinks at the bar, you’ll see smiles on staff faces, you’re going to spend time with the people you hold dear.” he exclaimed.
You don’t have to sweat the small things; everything is going to be under control, and you’ll be in good hands. All you have to do is show up and have fun.
Paul knows people come to River Bend Resort for great experiences and great fishing, and he makes sure his family and staff are doing their best to make it a great trip. The Johnsons as owner-operators have their hand in a little of everything. They’re the people cooking your breakfast, cleaning your fish, changing out the linens. Being a family-owned resort means the Johnsons are the people doing the work and their work is a labor of love.
“Trips to Lake of the Woods are about making memories that last generations,” he says. “It’s about living out those stories to pass down. It’s the tradition of the trip, of something to carry on. It’s so hard to get together now; people are busy. Now more than ever, it’s important to keep those traditions going.”
RIVER BEND TURNS A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE INTO A TRADITION
Visiting Lake of the Woods might be something you’ve done several times or something you really want to do. Either way, you need to visit to build memories and have awesome experiences.
“We have people that have never caught a walleye, never driven on the ice, never seen the northern lights, never heard a loon call,” Paul reveals. “We want Riverbend Resort to be a place where people have those experiences, adventures, and getaways.”
The fishing is fantastic but is ultimately a bonus. The time with family or friends, the camaraderie with family and friends while fishing, the summer campfires, the moonlit frozen river out your cabin door in winter, the chance to walk “Wheeler’s Point Strip” between resorts and bars at the end of Minnesota State Highway 72…all the ambiance, the good times, and great people make getting away to River Bend Resort a place where you will notch your own memories and start your own traditions.
The Johnsons want you to come visit River Bend Resort for amazing fishing and first-class accommodations. “Everyone is a future client, and we’ll treat you like family because you are our family,” Brandi says.
“It’s important to us to maintain those relationships,” Paul says.
“We want to deliver smiles. We live vicariously through people’s experiences visiting this place.”
River Bend Resort will treat you well and help you make trips into traditions, memories into your annual established practice. “Come to catch fish, but most importantly come to get together and see each other for that special trip,” Brandi says.
“Bring up your work buddies,” says Paul, “go take a lady’s trip, load up the kids and make plans to do that family trip you keep saying ‘someday’ about…”
You may regret not taking those trips and scheduling a getaway to River Bend Resort is your chance to make those memories.
PAUL AND BRANDI ON THEIR FAMILY TRADITIONS AND ROLE AS HOSTS
“Working in hospitality, our family had to reshape and retool our traditions,” Paul explained.
“We take our family trips when the Minnesota border water season closes, and the Rainy River is slowly making its way downstream from International Falls. We have this short window to get away, and it’s our tradition to head to Florida for a week; we take our two boys and what do we do? Go fishing! We get funny looks that we leave a world class angling destination to go elsewhere and fish, but the truth is, when you run a resort, you don’t have much time to fish.”
Word to the wise, whoever said you should buy a fishing resort so you can go fishing whenever you want was dead wrong! The Johnsons enjoy an escape during the shoulder seasons on Lake of the Woods for some Florida Gulf Coast fishing.
“Our traditions gear around fishing and hunting.” Brandi explained. The Johnsons invite their family to join them around Christmas, and everyone goes out fishing on Christmas Eve to catch their Christmas dinner. The men in the Johnson family take a fishing trip to the Northwest Angle in the fall.
Everyone heads back to Perham for the firearms deer hunting season. “Fishing and hunting is what we do,” says Brandi. By virtue of their own enjoyment of the outdoors, hunting, and fishing, they are well suited to understand their guests’ wishes and desires on fishing trips.
“When we travel somewhere, we want the same thing as our guests visiting River Bend,” Paul said. “We want to have a good time and have fun, we want to be in good hands, we want to enjoy each other’s company, and we want to enjoy the great outdoors”.
The Johnsons know how to have a good time in the outdoors and how to ensure others get the same treatment they desire. They bring a lifetime of service from Perham to Lake of the Woods.
Besides caring for guests and staff, the Johnsons have a deep commitment to the Lake of the Woods community and resource. Paul sits on the Lake of the Woods tourism board as well as participating in meetings with the Baudette Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Office to learn about and discuss the health of the fishery at Lake of the Woods. River Bend Resort works hard to ensure guest fish counts are accurate, within limits, and processed and bagged to legal standards.
The Johnsons are proud partners of Lake of the Woods county’s “Keep it Clean” campaign, helping raise funds for garbage and waste receptacles, trash pickups, and helping educate visitors about Aquatic Invasive Species. “We’re not just business owners, we are stewards too,” Paul said. “Ultimately, we are all in this together as businesses, guides, visiting anglers and guests…all of us have a hand in shaping sustainable fishing opportunities for the future.”
The Johnsons have some incredible customers with annual trips. One group has returned for 22 years. The Rick Parentparty started coming up with 16-18 guys but is now down to a dozen. Each of the guys competes for three different trophies that are brought up to the resort each year and handed out in the restaurant at the end of the week in an awards ceremony. Enjoying good fishing and each other’s company on an annual retreat has made this group strongly bonded.
The most senior booking is a family that has come to River Bend Resort for over 50 years, the Erhardt’s. There are great-great grandchildren of the original couple attending. This family started visiting when the resort was originally Gerhart’s in 1964. They stayed with the place when Glen and Pam Voytilla took over, as well as Charlie Kasberger, and now the Johnsons. The fact that River Bend Resort can host this family and be part of such a long tradition is humbling, and a responsibility the Johnsons take seriously.
“We have another family with 39 straight years of visit,” Brandi said.” It’s unbelievable. We have lots of 20+ year visitors. We have a group that must get new hats every year. It’s wonderful to see those examples of creating traditions and the memories made in the process.”
Through the ups and downs of life, through the ups and downs of how good the fishing is on Lake of the Woods, these wonderful guests come back, diehard guests with rich fishing traditions that are examples to all of us to make the most of our time with family and friends.
A PARTING MEMORY
Brandi cherishes the memory of her beloved grandmother. She visited River Bend Resort to celebrate her 82nd birthday ice fishing. It was a positive family experience before her grandmother passed away two years later. The importance of urgency for planning trips. Go when you can because you may not see that person again or be able to make those family trips!
“Also, for the 17 years that we have been resorting, she would remind me that she was the one who taught me how to fold a fitted sheet. To this very day, her lesson greatly helps when washing the resort linens!”